Saturday, December 6, 2008

A summer in Seattle...conclusion

It had been almost forty-eight hours with nothing more than an occasional nap, but the lull of the train had finally rocked me to sleep. I had fallen asleep in the observation deck surrounded by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. When I awoke early the next morning, we were just a few hours outside of Portland, Oregon. Trying to bathe in the quart-sized sink in the train bathroom was a challenge but I'd managed and then met my friends for breakfast in the dining car. There was such anticipation and each of us wondered what lay ahead for the summer.

Portland was beautiful...with the beautiful Willamette and Columbia Rivers, snow capped mountains in the distance, the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. Over the next two weeks, I would fall in love with the City of Roses...but my destination was Seattle. We were met at the train station and driven to the beautiful estate where the two-week orientation would be held.

Students from all over the United States now joined those of us from the East, South and Midwest who had met in Chicago. I'm sure the agenda over the next two weeks included training for what we would need to know as summer missionaries...but my memories are distinctly different. I remember the dormitory where the girls slept with open windows on three sides, inviting in the cool mountain air. That first night's sleep on a top-bunk was one of the best I've ever had. I remember the unexpectedly delicious meals in the dining room with big pitchers of ice cold milk. I remember the amazing view from the mountaintop setting. Most especially, I remember meeting new friends and having fun touring Portland together during our spare time over those two weeks.

Toward the end of orientation, a group of about twenty college students were selected to stay an additional two weeks in Canada at the end of summer. I was one of them. I changed my train reservation and prepared to stay. Little did I know then, the events that decision would precipitate.
There were several of us traveling to Seattle. We would be together off and on throughout the summer. We stayed with different church families who made us a part of their family while we were with them. I remember each of the families..maybe not their names after all these years, but their faces and their homes.

For the next ten weeks, I worked setting up and teaching Vacation Bible Schools all across the Seattle on Vashon Island. We worked in several underprivileged areas. The children at each one tugged at my heart. It was difficult getting attached to them knowing that we would be leaving and moving to the next church in two weeks. It was a time of growing for me...a time of finding out just what I had to give.

It wasn't all work. Those of us assigned to Seattle got together as often as we could. We took the elevator to the top of the Space Needle and enjoyed the view of Seattle and the breathtaking mountains. We went night fishing at a trout farm. We took a ferry to historic Victoria, British Columbia. I loved it, especially Butchart Gardens. One of my friends, Shelby, rented a motorbike and I remember touring part of Victoria on the back of it with him. Another day, we traveled to Mt. Ranier, where I got an up close and personal look at a majestic mountain. I would laugh later when I got home and had all my film developed. I had taken a full roll of Mt. Ranier. I was captivated by this structure, this unbelievable display of God's incredible handiwork, and in my excitement took at least 24 photos which, of course, all looked alike.

Toward the beginning of my last week there, I began having some serious symptoms...among them fever, extreme fatigue, aching joints and shortness of breath. I had been seriously anemic prior to the trip and had endured several painful injections of iron to be able to make the trip...all the while insisting I was going. I thought the symptoms were related to that, but the "Mom" I was staying with at the time insisted on taking me to her physician. He examined me and ordered bloodwork. There were some issues with the blood work; but the doctor admitted he wasn't sure what it was and diagnosed it as "some type of rare virus". I wasn't a Registered Nurse at that time, of course, and didn't ask questions. I just knew I felt ill. The doctor did not recommend that I stay the extra two weeks in Canada, and he definitely did not want me traveling home by train. My home church took up a collection for me to fly home at the end of that week.

I don't remember whether or not the doctor had given me any medication, but over the next few days, I began to feel a little better and enjoyed my last visit with all the friends I had made there. It was difficult saying goodbye to everyone...honestly, I didn't want to leave the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I remember the Friday evening that I boarded the plane to fly first flight ever. There was a battalion of handsome young Air Force men on the same flight. They had been stationed in Alaska for the entire previous year. With a big smile, the "full bird colonel" sat down next to me saying, "I have a daughter just your age...I'm sitting here." I understood what he was saying, of course, but confess to thinking "oh, heck". What better person to have sitting next to you on your first flight though than an Air Force colonel. He was excited about getting home to his wife and the daughter who was my age and told me all about them. Thankfully, he was there to help me make my tight connection at the O'Hare airport in Chicago...something I've done dozens of times since...but not before then.

Oddly enough, when I arrived at the Memphis airport I felt perfectly fine. There were no more symptoms, and my doctor did not find anything with his examination and blood work.

Two weeks after my arrival home, I was sitting on my front porch reading the newspaper. There in black and white was the account of a serious train accident. I remember running into the house and comparing my ticket, which I still had, with the newspaper was the same train. I had goose bumps for days after that.

Only God knows if I would have been among the injured or dead, had I been on that train...but He intervened and orchestrated an early arrival home for me. I'm thankful for that and for the wonderful summer of 1965 in the Pacific Northwest. Little did I know then, that 43 years later, I would be living in the Callahan Mountains of Oregon.